For the last month or so, Carson City resident Charile Brown has worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week readying his schooner for its trip to San Francisco and its introduction to the sea.
"I'm drained," he said. "It's like we're on the end of a long journey."
Standing at his dusty Mound House shipyard, Brown pats the hull of his ship. He points out its new Polyeura coating which should give the ship an extra level of protection when the Vera Cruz hits the water in two weeks.
"Not too many people do something like this in the desert," Brown said. "She's a stout ship, though."
The fact that few people would choose to build a ship in a landlocked, bone dry state has drawn a few hundred visitors to Mound House, more known for its connection to brothels than maritime history.
Brown said he sometimes has up to 50 visitors a day who've come from as far as Japan and Alaska to look at his ship, a replica of an 1898 Burgess Rhodes-designed bug-eye (gaff) brigantine schooner. In other words, the ship is a two-masted version of the old pirate sailing ships seen in the movies. Such shallow-draft ships were typically used in shallow coastal waters in the East Coast's fishing industry.
Building the 106-foot-long, 20-foot-wide Vera Cruz has been a four and a half year venture for Brown, a Florida native who moved to Carson City from Oregon to work on the ship.
"Sometimes I just sit in the cabins and remember when it was sticks," he said. "So many people have worked on this. People have given up vacations, holidays and time with family to bring this together."
Looking through pictures of the ship and the people who've helped build it, Brown recalled when he started the project, a little younger, a little thinner. His beard wasn't as gray.
"It was nothing but two long pieces of wood," he said. "When it looked like that, like you're in a tree forest with no leaves, you have to keep in mind the goal. I used to come out at nights with a cup of coffee and plan each stage. I knew what I wanted, but I had to focus. When you're doing a project like this, you have to focus or you won't finish."
Brown has transferred that sense of determination, not to mention craftsmanship, to several young men working with him on the project.
Bobby Pritchard, 21, joined the crew of the Vera Cruz about five months ago. It was just that long ago that Pritchard left the California juvenile penitentiary system after seven years.
"To be honest with you, I had no direction," Pritchard said. "I was at a dead end and was released in the same town where I had committed all my crimes. I needed to start a future and learn something."
Pritchard's lifelong friend, Jimmie Kasper, 24, was in a similar situation, only he said he had no direction, a wife and a daughter "and I had nothing to give them." However, Kasper happens to be Brown's brother-in-law. Brown put Kasper to work, and later, Kasper brought Pritchard and Reul Alldredge, 24, on board.
"It's changed our lives," Kasper said. "It gives us something to work for. We're learning. I get up every morning for this. When the lights first went on in the ship, I was so satisfied. I'd spent six months working on the wiring and they came on. I'm doing something right in life."
Pritchard said where he once had no plan, he now has a future. Working on the Vera Cruz has given him woodworking, mechanical and electrical skills. On a lighter note, he said he no longer sees a cop and worries if the cop is looking for him.
"I'm learning to do things right," he said. "This is the opportunity to change my life."
Brown is almost as proud of his crew as he is of the Vera Cruz.
"Youth have to have focus and direction," Brown said. "Nowadays, what challenges do young men have? Bobby turned his life around because of this ship. The ship doesn't just seem like a piece of wood to him. Now he sees he can do something with his life. He has skills and dedication. You can't find that in the streets. These boys have given up running around to focus on their futures."
Brown had hoped to have an educational program coordinated with the ship, but funding constraints prevented the Internet-based program from going with the Vera Cruz. Instead, Brown plans on giving the Carson City Rotary Club 10 trips on the Vera Cruz for high school-aged youth to learn more about old world sailing. Brown operates a boat charter company called Rocky Point Charters based in Rocky Point, Mexico. The ship's maiden voyage will include a documentary film crew on its journey to Puerto Penasco, Mexico. It will eventually be used for chartered sailing trips in the Sea of Cortez.
The clock in the ship's salon is broken, set at 3 p.m. for eternity. Captain Jack, a wooden cockatoo painted like a parrot, watches over the wet bar, aptly named Captain Jack's, with his "good eye." Construction is going night and day to get the ship ready for its christening ceremony Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. And if everything goes well, by mid-October the Vera Cruz will make the 200 mile journey to the Bay area by truck. When Brown built the smaller scale model of the ship for a float test in Washoe Lake, he said he almost caused two wrecks from people stopping to stare at it.
"Imagine what will happen when the real one goes down the road," he said.
Friday: Christening ceremony of the Vera Cruz from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Mound House. Members of the public are welcome.
Mid October: The Vera Cruz is trucked to the Bay area
End of October: A film crew joins the crew of the Vera Cruz in San Diego
November: Expedition voyage with film crew
Call Rafael Cappucci at 841-7389 for information. Head to the Web at www.rockypointcharters.com.